The retail market is stirring in Bury. The town's famous market might still the main draw for coach trippers but Scottish Widow's recently announced sale of the Mill Gate Centre hails the prospect of fresh retail investment and lettings at a key town centre asset, which relinquished occupiers to Thornfield's The Rock, just as the recession bit hard.
Here's a quick roundup of what's happening in Manchester's northern outpost, by Andrew Watt.
Bury is still adjusting to The Rock, which opened in summer 2010, adding 750,000 sq ft of retail space, Vue Cinema, AMF Bowling and the town's first clutch of chain restaurants. The scheme delivered large floorplate units, attracting debutants Primark, Debenhams and Superdry. Others transferred from traditional prime areas in the Mill Gate Centre, notably Marks & Spencer, but several vacancies remain following early tenant churn. More development is promised, adding four restaurant and café units at the western end of the scheme on the Sol Viva nightclub site. Permission was secured in 2013 and the site is ready to go.
Mill Gate Shopping Centre
Contracts were exchanged in June for sale of Mill Gate Shopping Centre by Scottish Widows for about £52m. InfraRed Capital Partners is acquiring and will hope to reduce voids caused by tenant failures and defections to The Rock. Mill Gate retains BHS as anchor, along with Boots, New Look, Specsavers and Waterstones. There is potential for reconfiguration of the mainly covered centre. Scottish Widows drew up a development plan after its purchase in 2005 but the recession that followed and shift of focus to The Rock meant nothing progressed.
Bury Council granted planning permission in September 2013 for a 128,000 sq ft foodstore on the vacant police HQ site and leisure centre on the western edge of town. The council's partner, Ask Developments, must ensure relocation of the leisure centre to nearby Knowsley Street. Morrisons and Sainsbury's were rumoured as potential occupiers – neither is represented in the town – but local agents doubt their appetite for a large store. The permission is the subject of judicial review by rival developer Morbaine, which has aspirations for a foodstore across town at Derby Way. Morbaine's challenge was initially rebuffed by the courts but a subsequent hearing in March 2014 determined there were legitimate grounds for challenge. Negotiations are ongoing between the parties; council officers say the talks could lead to cessation of the legal proceedings.
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Morbaine has options on six acres of land east of The Rock, occupied by First Bus. Planning permission for a 112,000 sq ft foodstore was refused in September 2013, at the same committee that approved the council's alternative Bolton Street scheme. Sainsbury's was associated with the site but, like Bolton Street, sentiments seem to have changed and the retailer appears unlikely to commit.
Woodfields Retail Park
A Tesco British Land JV, anchored by the eponymous retailer on the northern edge of the town centre, off Peel Way. Tesco's superstore is dominant in the town and likely to be extended to add dot.com facilities, servicing a growing demand for multi-channel retailing. A planning application is with the council. The retail park is fully let, home to Boots, Next, Sports Soccer, Currys and JD Sports.
Moorgate Retail Park
Located on the eastern edge of the centre, Moorgate is recovering from the failure of MFI in late 2008 and Comet in December 2012. Home Bargains mopped up the former MFI unit about 12 months ago – its third outlet in the town. The Comet space remains available 18 months after the shutters came down, but is the only vacant retail warehouse in town.
Andrew Watt is director of MAZE Planning Solutions in Bury
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